Saturday, April 14, 2018

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa, a collection of well over 1,000 blog posts and pages on a wide variety of topics, created and maintained by Nicholas Johnson since 2006.

Quick Links
* Most recent blog essays: "Sinclair TV Defies Originalism," April 14, 2018 [embedded: "Sinclair TV Defies Originalism," The Gazette, April 14, 2018, p. A6]

"Making Sense of Trump's Syria Attack," April 14, 2018

"'Never Happen Again' Is Not Enough," February 28, 2018 [embedded: "'Never Happen Again' Is Not Enough," The Gazette, February 28, 2018, p. A6; "Why 'Never Again' Is Not Enough," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 7, 2018, p. A7; and "Why 'Never Again' is Never Enough," The Daily Iowan, March 19, 2018, p. 4]

"UI Funding Worse Than Thought," February 16, 2018

"School Shootings: What You Can Do," February 15, 2018

"Religious Rights and Civil Wrongs on Campus," January 20, 2018

"Taxes Are Last Step Not First," December 24, 2017 [embedded: "Decisions Must Come Before Taxes," The Gazette, January 3, 2018, p. A5; and "Taxes Are Last Step, Not the First, to Making U.S. Great," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 27, 2018, p. A6]

"Defending Democracy," December 3, 2017 [embedded: "Defending Democracy," The Gazette, December 3, 2017, p. C4]

"Lipstick on TIFs," December 2, 2017 [embedded: "City is Putting Lipstick on TIFs," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 2, 2017, p. A6]

"Media's Role and Future," November 18, 2017

"Free Speech Rights: Trump vs. NFL," September 26, 2017

"Afghanistan: Our Unwinnable War to Nowhere," August 29, 2017

Business Leaders: Make Legislators Fund Educated Workforce," August 13, 2017 [embedded: "Can Biz Leaders Save Education?" The Gazette, Insight, August 22, 2017, p. A6]

"Unlearning Hatred," August 15, 2017

"Thoughts on Eating Living Things," August 13, 2017

"Does Trump Really Want a Chief of Staff?" August 3, 2017

"Should You Buy an Electric Car?" July 30, 2017

"GOP Healthcare: Just 'Tell 'em I lied,'" July 28, 2017

"Acceptable, Available, Affordable Housing," July 22, 2017 [embedded: "Health Care, Housing Rights?" The Gazette, Insight, August 1, 2017, p. A5]

"Unfit To Be The Ruler," July 4, 2017

"Not All Criticism is Defamation," July 4, 2017 [embedded: "Is Superintendent Criticism 'Defamation'?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 28, 2017, p. 7A]

"Kushner's Back-Channel Multiple Tragedies," May 29, 2017

"Trump's 'Just Politics' Defense," May 28, 2017

"How to Start a Governorship," May 25, 2017

"Why Ned Neutrality is Your Friend," May 22, 2017 [embedded: "Why Net Neutrality is Our Friend," "Insight," The Gazette, June 2, 2017, p. A6]

"Mediacom's 1000% Interest Late Payment Fee," May 9, 2017

"What Trump Needs to Know About Libel," May 1, 2017

"A Millionaire by Age 30? Here's How," April 26, 2017

"Airlines, Crisis Communications 101, and Prohibited Speech," April 18, 2017

"Of Missiles and Teachers," April 7, 2017 [embedded: "Spending on Military Always Comes at a Cost," Nicholas Johnson, "Insight & Books," The Gazette, April 9, 2017, p. D5]

"Collusion, Treason, Trump and Putin," April 5, 2017

"How to Save Highter Ed," March 19, 2017 [embedded: "Saving Higher Ed; Step1: Listen to What Iowans Want," Nicholas Johnson, "Insight & Books," The Gazette, March 19, 2017, p. D1, and "Solutions for Iowa Higher Ed's Woes," Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 12, 2017, p. A7] ]

"Resources for Trump Watchers," February 11, 2017

"Who Are We?" January 31, 2017 (a response to President Trump's ill-considered travel ban)

"No Elephants in the Room," January 15, 2017 (NFL football)

"Educating In and For a Digital Age; The Vast Waistline & Other Challenges to Education as We Knew It," January 14, 2017 [text of remarks delivered at 4CAST - Campus Academic Strategies and Technology Conference, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, January 12, 2017]

"Eastern Iowa's Declaration of Human Rights," January 5, 2017 (contains "Focus on Our Common Values," The Gazette, January 1, 2017, p. D2)

"Tracking Trump," November 15, 2016 (More like a Web site with links to associated pages than like an individual blog essay, this is both a daily report and a repository of news and opinion regarding President-Elect Donald J. Trump from the day after the election (i.e., November 9) through the day of his inauguration as president on January 20, 2017.)

"Democratic Party's Past -- and Future," November 9, 2016

"Hillary's New Emails: A Solution for FBI Director Comey," October 31, 2016

"An Outrageous Merger," October 29, 2016

"Republicans Need to Get Their Party Back From Trump," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 20, 2016, p. A7

"Iowa's Top Republicans' Major Mistake," October 13, 2016

"Law, Social Norms and Trump," October 2, 2016

"Donald Trump's Barrel of Squirrels," September 25, 2016

"First Thoughts on 911 -- 15 Years Later," September 11, 2016

"At Last, the Agnostic, Insomniac, Dyslexic Answer," September 10, 2016

"Trump Might Not Be Blundering in Race," September 9, 2016

"Labor Day for All 2016," September 4, 2016

"Our Revolution: Yes; But First Some Questions," August 31, 2016

"The Doping Dilemma," August 17, 2016

"Maybe This Explains Trump," August 15, 2016

When Words Can Kill," August 10, 2016

"The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It," July 29, 2016

"Why Trump May Win; Discouraged By The Democratic Party's Self-Inflicted Wounds," July 25, 2016

"Doing It Ourselves," July 24, 2016

"An Answer to Athletes' Doping?" July 23, 2016

"Cancer: 'Of Course; But Maybe,'" July 13, 2016

"Clinton-Lynch Tarmac Talk; 'What Were They Thinking?'" July 4, 2016

"Focus on Muslims Misplaced After Shooting," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 17, 2016, p. A5

"Keeping Up With ISIS; There Is Another Explanation for Orlando," June 14, 2016

"On Being, Doing and 'Compromise;' What's Next for Senator Sanders' Revolution? Here's My Suggestion," June 9, 2016

"When 'The Morning After' Looks Even Worse," June 8, 2016

"Searching for the Media's Soul," June 7, 2016

"My Take on Supervisor Race," June 4, 2016

"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

* Most recent UI & President Harreld-related items & comments:

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016, as published in The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4

"What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016 (an expanded version of The Daily Iowan's excerpt, above)

UI President Harreld - Feb. 2016," February 1, 2016

Cessation of Ongoing Harreld Repository [Feb. 29]. For the past six months, since the Iowa Board of Regents' selection of Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, September 1, 2015, this blog has endeavored to compile a relatively complete repository of links to, and comments about, the news stories and opinion pieces dealing with the Board of Regents, President Harreld, and related items of relevance to higher education in general and the University of Iowa in particular. They are contained in the blogs for September-October, November, December, 2015, and January and February, 2016 (all linked from this page). I thought it would be a useful resource for those looking for a single source to follow the saga, as well as for those in future years wishing to do serious research, or merely inform themselves, about this important slice of UI's history. Response from readers indicates it has at least provided the former function. Now as they say, "as a concession to the shortness of life," and a desire to get back to other writing, I am going to reclaim those daily hours of research for other tasks. As major UI stories worthy of individual blog essays come along they will, of course be blogged about from time to time.

For research beyond February 29, 2016, you might start with this list (any omissions were inadvertent; email me suggestions for more):

University of Iowa AAUP, https://twitter.com/UIowaAAUP

Mark Barrett, Ditchwalk, http://ditchwalk.com (look for Harreld Hire Updates)

Iowans Defending Our Universities, https://twitter.com/IowansDefending

John Logsdon, https://www.facebook.com/johnlogsdon.jr, and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/JohnLogsdon

Josiah Pickard, https://twitter.com/uimemory

. . . and well-crafted search terms in Google. -- N.J., February 29, 2016
_______________

More Detailed Contents, Links & Guide

The most recent blog essay (as distinguished from the entries listing UI-related material) is:"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

See more, below.

University of Iowa, most recent: The most recent month's collection in the ongoing repository of news, opinion pieces, and documents regarding the University of Iowa, its current president, Bruce Harreld, the Iowa Board of Regents, and related matters is: UI President Harreld - Feb. 2016," February 1, 2016

University of Iowa, earlier: Earlier collections of, and individual blog essays about, the repository of news, opinion pieces, and documents regarding the University of Iowa, its current president, Bruce Harreld, the Iowa Board of Regents, and related matters are:
UI President Harreld - Jan. 2016," January 1, 2016

"UI President Harreld - Dec. 2015," December 1, 2015

"UI President Harreld - Nov. 2015," November 1, 2015

"Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2-October 31, 2015

Recent terrorism-related blog essays

Recent TIF-related blog essays

Recent other than (1) University of Iowa, (2) terrorism, or (3) TIF-related topics:
"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016, as published in The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4

"What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016
"The Constitution, Supreme Court and People's Voice: Senate Ignoring the People's Voice," March 21, 2016
"Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?" March 23, 2016
"The Constitution, Supreme Court and People's Voice," March 21, 2016
"Random Thoughts on Tuition-Free Iowa Universities," March 11, 2016
"Water," February 29, 2016
"The State of the Media," February 28, 2016
"Our Communities' Second Priority," February 7, 2016
"Bernie's Extraordinary, Unacknowledged Accomplishment," February 3, 2016
Why Nobody 'Wins' the Iowa Caucus," February 1, 2016
"Caucus With Your Heart And Head -- For Bernie," January 28, 2016
"Why I'm Caucusing for Sanders and You Should Too," January 22, 2016
"Reasons for Hope in 2016," December 25, 2015
"Feeling the Bern at The Mill," December 9, 2015
"Anyone for Democracy," November 22, 2015
General instructions on searching by heading, date, or topic

(1) If you've come to FromDC2Iowa and landed on this page, rather than what you are looking for, it is because this is the default page, the opening page, for this blog.

(2) Many visitors are looking for recent blog posts. At the bottom of this page you will find suggestions. At this time they include: (1) material related to the Iowa Board of Regents process for selecting President Bruce Harreld, and his ongoing performance in office, (2) terrorism, ISIS and Syrian refugees, and (3) TIFs, and other transfers of taxpayers' money to the wealthy.

(3) It is also possible to go directly to specific blog posts within this blog. Here's how:

First, go to the top of this page where you will see the headline, "Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide" and click on it there (not as reproduced in this sentence). That will clean this page by removing blog posts from earlier this month.

In that right hand column you will find two ways of accessing individual blog posts:
(1) Blog Archive. The first is under the bold heading "Blog Archive.". You will see the years from 2006 to the present. Click on a year, and the months of that year will appear. Click on a month and the individual headlines for the blog posts during that month appear. Click on a headline and you will be transferred to that blog post. (Once there, you will see the unique URL address for that blog post that you can use in the future, or share with a friend, as a way to reach it directly.)

(2) Google Search Nick's Blog or Website. Immediately beneath the Blog Archive is the bold heading "Google Search Nick's Blog or Website," followed by an empty box, and the instructions, "Insert terms above; then click here." (Although it offers the option to search the "Nicholas Johnson Web Site" as well, it is set to the default: "FromDC2Iowa Blog.") Use whatever search terms you think most appropriate, such as "University of Iowa," "terrorism," "TIFs," or "Harreld." Your click will open up a Google search Web page listing the relevant blog posts (if any) with the links you can click on to see them.

University of Iowa's new President Bruce Harreld.
Looking for the blog post containing extensive repository of documents, news, opinion pieces (updated daily) from September 2 through October 31, 2015, regarding the Iowa Board of Regents' process, and early selection of UI President-elect Bruce Harreld? -->Click here<--

For November 2015 coverage -- with documents, news stories, and opinion pieces -- from his first day on the job, November 2, through November 30, 2015 -->Click here<--

For the December 2015 coverage -->Click Here<--

For the January 2016 coverage -->Click Here<--

In addition to these blog posts, which primarily contain chronological lists of documents, news articles and opinion pieces -- along with some relatively brief commentary about some of the items -- there are also the following more traditional blog essays and newspaper columns by Nicholas Johnson on these subjects:

"Hiring Candid, Courageous University Presidents," August 29, 2015

"Should Bruce Harreld Be Given Serious Consideration in UI Search?" embedded in "Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2, 2015

"Better Ways to Pick a New UI President," The Gazette, September 27, 2015, embedded in "Seven Steps for Transitioning Universities," September 27, 2015

"UI's President Could Have Been Chris Christie," October 3, 2015

"Parallels Between School Systems Staggering," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 10, 2015, embedded in "UI and Higher Education in Context," November 9, 2015

"Trouble in River City: Corruption Creep," December 13, 2015

"Quick Draw Harreld and Why Language Matters," December 17, 2015

Terrorism, ISIS, Syrian Refugees.
Understanding Terrorist Thugs," The Daily Iowan, December 3, 2015

Nicholas Johnson, "Sober Risk Assessment Needed to Respond to Terror," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2015

Nicholas Johnson, "Syria's Refugees: Job One and Job Two," The Gazette, November 1, 2015

"Is U.S. Response Strengthening ISIS?" September 19, 2014

For additional speech texts, columns and blog posts on these subjects, see "Samples of Nicholas Johnson's Prior Writing on Terrorism and War"

TIFs and Other Crony Capitalism Schemes For links to 44 blog essays on these topics since 2006 see, "TIFS: Links to Blog Essays"

# # #

Sinclair TV Defies Originalism

Introduction: Opponents of Sinclair Broadcasting's drive to acquire the Tribune stations, moving it from "biggest broadcaster" to "even bigger," have tried to frame arguments within the wink-wink loose standards of today's FCC and Congress. By law, local stations are responsible for their local news and opinion. Sinclair management requires local stations' anchors to read pro-Trump commentary from Sinclair headquarters as if it was the opinion of the local anchor/station. That would seem to be a violation.

As serious as that is, it pales in comparison with the "original intent" of those creating the American system of broadcast regulation. I'm not a supporter of knee-jerk "original intent" interpretations of the Constitution by some Supreme Court Justices. But since many conservatives are "originalists," presumably including some supporting this Sinclair power grab, it seemed only fair to measure Sinclair's station ownership and performance against the regulatory intentions of those creating our first Radio Acts.

(1) The first document, below, is an op ed column in The Gazette (as published). (2) Below it is the text submitted (that needed to be edited for space). (3) Below that is a column appearing in The Gazette on the same day (and page) written by the general manager of the local (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Sinclair station. (4) At the bottom of the page are samples of emails commenting on the column. (Usually, and in this case, I do not engage in prolonged exchanges with those criticizing a column, in the belief that (a) visitors to the blog are fully capable of coming to their own judgments, and (b) since I've had my say, those who wish to provide a civil response should be granted as much.) -- N.J.

Sinclair TV Defies Originalism

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, April 14, 2018, p. A6

Sinclair Communications holds the most TV station licenses of any broadcaster. It wants more, reaching over 70 percent of American homes. [Sinclair Broadcasting Group Headquarters, Baltimore (Hunt Valley), Maryland; photo credit: Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun]

To put this power grab in context, there’s a useful lesson from Supreme Court justices’ interpretation of the Constitution – Antonin Scalia, Neil Gorsuch, and Hugo Black.

It’s called “textualism,” or “originalism.” Originalists believe judges can’t say a word “means just what I choose it to mean” – what it has come to mean, or what they wish it meant. A word means what those who wrote it meant by it, at the time they wrote it.

Suppose we apply “originalism” to Sinclair. What was the intent of those drafting laws regulating broadcasters?

New technology leaves us struggling for vocabulary, let alone understanding. Automobiles were “horseless carriages;” radio was“wireless” telegraphy.

Given the mystery and miracle of 1920s radio, it’s remarkable Herbert Hoover (then Commerce Secretary) could see radio’s “ability . . . to furnish entertainment, instruction, widening vision of national problems and national events.” Even U.S. broadcasters, agreed with Hoover that, “it is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter.”

The Radio Act permitted “the use of such channels, but not the ownership thereof . . . for limited periods of time, under licenses [which shall not] be construed to create any right, beyond the terms, conditions, and periods of the license.” The standard for granting and renewing licenses was “the public interest.”

In 1932 a federal appellate court upheld the Commission’s denial of renewal for a broadcaster who regularly defamed government, officials, labor, and various religions. If broadcasters are permitted to “inspire political distrust and civic discord,” it wrote, radio “will become a scourge.”

Airtime for one candidate required “equal opportunity” for opponents. Personal attacks generated opportunity to reply. A “fairness doctrine” didn’t control content but demanded treatment of public issues and presentation of a range of views.

As early as 1926, when Congress was debating the Radio Act, Texas Congressman Luther Johnson warned, “American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations.” If “a single selfish group is permitted to . . . dominate these broadcasting stations . . . woe be to those who dare to differ with them. It will be impossible to compete with them in reaching the ears of the American people.”

As late as 1970 no licensee could operate more than one AM, FM, and TV in one market. The national limit was seven AM, seven FM, and five VHF TV stations. Rules prohibited ownership combining stations and newspapers.

With broadcasters’ pressure on Congress and the FCC, regulations change. Original intent does not. Were it followed today, Sinclair would not have the licenses it does, let alone more. It would not dictate “local” commentaries to stations legally responsible for their content. And it could not be a propagandist for a single official, candidate, or ideology.

• Nicholas Johnson served as commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from 1966-1973. Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org
_______________

Column As Submitted
[before excellent editing/tightening improvements by Gazette Insight Editor, Todd Dorman, in published version, above]

Sinclair Communications holds the most TV station licenses of any broadcaster. It wants more, enough to reach over 70% of American homes.

To put this media power grab in context for TV watchers, there’s a useful lesson from some Supreme Court justices’ interpretation of the Constitution – Justices like Antonin Scalia, Neil Gorsuch, and even occasionally my mentor, Justice Hugo Black.

It’s called “textualism,” or “originalism.” Unlike Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland, originalists believe judges can’t say a word “means just what I choose it to mean” – what it has come to mean, or what they wish it meant. A word means what those who wrote it meant by it, at the time they wrote it. Judges are bound by the “original” meaning of the “text,” the original intent of the drafters.

Suppose we apply to Sinclair the idea of “originalism.” What was the original intent of those drafting laws regulating broadcasters?

New technology leaves us struggling, even for vocabulary, let alone understanding. Automobiles were defined by their lack of horses (“horseless carriages”); radio by its lack of telegraph wires (“wireless” telegraphy).

Given the mystery and miracle of 1920s radio, it’s remarkable that Iowa’s own President Herbert Hoover (then Commerce Secretary) could see radio’s “ability . . . to furnish entertainment, instruction, widening vision of national problems and national events.” Other countries agreed, and established public corporations to operate stations. They, and even U.S. broadcasters, agreed with Hoover that, “it is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter."

The Radio Act declared its purpose to permit “the use of such channels, but not the ownership thereof . . . for limited periods of time, under licenses [which shall not] be construed to create any right, beyond the terms, conditions, and periods of the license.” The standard for granting, and renewing, licenses was “the public interest.”

It was a kind of cross between private use of public lands, and politicians’ reelections – use, if benefitting the public, but not ownership; officials’ fixed terms, reelection earned.

In 1932 a federal appellate court upheld the Commission’s denial of renewal for a broadcaster who regularly defamed government, officials, labor, and various religions. If broadcasters are permitted to “inspire political distrust and civic discord,” it wrote, radio “will become a scourge.”

Airtime for one candidate required “equal opportunity” for all opponents. Personal attacks generated opportunity to reply. A “fairness doctrine” didn’t control content but demanded treatment of public issues and presentation of a range of views.

As early as 1926, when Congress was debating the Radio Act, Texas Congressman Luther Johnson presciently warned, “American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations.” If “a single selfish group is permitted to . . . dominate these broadcasting stations . . . woe be to those who dare to differ with them. It will be impossible to compete with them in reaching the ears of the American people.”

As late as 1970 no licensee could operate more than one AM, FM, and TV in a single market. The limit nationally was 7 AM, 7 FM, and 5 VHF TV stations. Diversity of viewpoint required banning ownership combining both stations and newspapers.

With broadcasters’ pressure on Congress and the FCC, regulations change with the times. The original intent does not. Were it followed today, Sinclair would not have the licenses it does, let alone more. It would not dictate “local” commentaries to stations legally responsible for their content. And it could not be a propagandist for a single official, candidate, or ideology.
._______________
Nicholas Johnson served as commissioner, Federal Communications Commission, 1966-1973. www.nicholasjohnson.org, FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com. Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org
_______________

Local Journalists Guide Sinclair Stations

Glen Callanan [General Manager, Sinclair station KGAN-TV2, Cedar Rapids]
The Gazette, April 14, 2018, p. A6

The editorial in the April 5 edition of The Gazette “News Consumers can help fight fake news” provided insight into how to protect against false information. That editorial pointed out KGAN CBS2 News and KFXA Fox 28 News here in Cedar Rapids are owned or operated by Sinclair Broadcasting.

We would like to remind your readers and our viewers that CBS2 and Fox 28 produce more than 33 hours of local news every week. As part of our newscasts we do air clearly labeled commentary provided by our parent company Sinclair Broadcasting. These commentaries account for roughly 8 minutes per week. Decisions about what to air and when to air it are made right here in our own newsroom. Our hardworking producers, reporters, photographers, anchors and a host of others work every day to bring our viewers the most up-to date, factually balanced stories from right here in the Corridor, our state, our nation and the world.

In just the last couple of years, CBS2/Fox 28 news has won multiple national and regional awards for our local news coverage from the Society of Professional Journalists, Upper Midwest Emmy, RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Regional Awards and the Iowa Broadcast News Association. Our entirely locally produced news public affairs show, “Iowa in Focus” had a run of more than 100 episodes focusing on issues relevant to Iowans including in-depth political reporting throughout 2016 and 2017.

We are also deeply involved in our community, providing support to community events and charities. Our station has a core belief in making an impact to improve our community. The Pay It Forward with Impact campaign is one example. In 2017, we began a twice a month series that features someone who gives back to the community. We tell their story and donate $300 in their name to a charity of their choice. Last year $7,200 was donated to charities such as the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, Camp Courageous and the Cedar Valley Humane Society among others. We are looking forward to helping more charities in 2018.

Sinclair has made a significant investment in our local news operations over the last few years which have allowed us to better produce our local newscasts. This includes equipment that improved the way we cover news, as well as adding jobs to a growing newsroom. When it comes to covering local news on a day-to-day basis, it is our people who live, work and play right here in the Corridor who make it their mission to uncover and report on the stories that affect our viewers.
• Glen Callanan is general manager of CBS2/Fox 28 in Cedar Rapids.

_______________

Sample of Email Responses

While I agree with the substance of your argument about the abuses, current and proposed, of the Sinclair operation, dipping into originalism seems risky business in the long-run.

Such is companion, in its demonstrated application by Scalia, et al, to be a companion to biblical literalism. Once published, texts take on a life of their own. They can only be interpreted by live human beings in their present context. History changes the context of the original version of document, published or unpublished.

Freedom of the press in the 18th century did not anticipate the likes of Sinclair, or anything like electronic media. Dealing with such requires wholesale reinterpretation based on current realities and assumptions about the common welfare.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Robin Kash
Cedar Rapids

I read your article in the Gazette today with some interest. As someone who follows the media closely I have several comments on your thoughts.

First let me point you to the editorial by Glen Callahan, also in the Gazette today. He did a nice job of explaining Sinclair's role in their local news coverage. I think the appropriate thought that he presented was that the "origin" of local news comes from his newsroom and not from Sinclair's corporate HQ.

Interesting comment "Originalists believe judges can't say a word means just what I chose it to mean - what it has come to mean or what they wish it to mean". It appears to me today that we have a preponderance of judges who ignore the Executive power of the President when it doesn't suit their political view and then support it when it does. The number of lawsuits regarding Visa and immigration issues reveals a totally corrupt judiciary that have decided "the words selectively mean what I chose it to mean". They decided the same issues differently.

What's more amazing though is the criticism of Sinclair "to dictate local commentary". it doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize the major networks, CNN, MSNBC and to a lesser degree the other networks singular hatred of President Trump. All responsible media studies in the past couple of years reveal a 90% negative coverage of President Trump. Claiming Sinclair is dictating news is preposterous when compared to the collusion between the major networks and national newspaper.

"And it could not be a propagandist for a single official, candidate , or ideology." Do you think anyone couldn't figure out which candidate the MSM supported in the election and everyday since? The bias is so loud people seems not to actually hear it over the din.

The free part of the press is almost unrecognizable today.

BTW the "Fairness Doctrine" was a way to stand on the neck of the free press and a means to limit some people's speech. It was not fair or useful in a free society.

Gary Ellis

# # #

Making Sense of Trump's Syria Attack

Why Now?
"A republic, if you can keep it."

-- Benjamin Franklin
reply when asked what
government the Constitutional
Convention created

Our responsibilities as the citizens of a democratic state are a heavy burden, but one we willingly bear.

The pillars of our democracy are under as much stress today as I can recall ever existing during the past 50 years or so. From within our borders and without, there are attacks on the integrity of our media, elections, judges, FBI, political opponents, public education, and the norms of presidential governance and behavior.

Hiring and firing of presidential appointees, financial and sexual scandals, presidential decisions announced by tweet one day and reversed the next, special counsel and congressional investigations related to the president, and more, come at us like the floods of spring. Dramatic revelations and stories that, alone, might normally provide headlines for a week, disappear by nightfall, smothered by those that follow.

The first requirement of our role as public citizens is that we give at least some time every day to informing ourselves, and trying to make some sense out of what our public officials are doing -- and failing to do. These days one could say, "If you're not confused you haven't been paying attention."

So it is with Trump's announcement, and military attack on Syria, last evening (April 13, 2018).

Here's my effort to suggest what may be, if not the only factor, at least one of the motivating factors in President Trump's attack on Syria -- his decision to do what he did when he did it>

I believe my offering can best be conveyed with four videos -- if taken all together, and in this sequence.

(1) The first is German public television's documentary, "Dangerous Ties." It describes Trump's business partners and practices, the role of Russians in his finances, and other matters now being addressed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, following the acquisition of documents from Trump's lawyer. Matt Apuzzo, "F.B.I. Raids Office of Trump's Longtime Lawyer Michael Cohen; Trump Calls It 'Disgraceful,'" New York Times, April 10, 2018, p. A1.

The 44-minute documentary is called "Dangerous Ties: Trump and His Business Partners." It reveals information that attentive American citizens need to know about their president. But it is especially relevant today, in its relation to the Syria attack, given the New York Times headline that, "Trump Sees Inquiry Into Cohen as Greater Threat Than Mueller" (Matt Apuzzo, Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Eileen Sullivan, New York Times, April 14, 2018, p. A1).

Here it is:



(2) The second is Danny Schechter's 2004 documentary, "Weapons of Mass Deception" (2004), describing the interlocked role of government and media in generating American citizens' support for war (1:38:00). If you watch the whole documentary carefully you will never again watch, or read, news stories of America's wars in the same way. I believe it is essential that citizens of a nation that spends more on its military than the next ten nations combined have at least this much sophisticated understanding regarding news of its nation's military.



(3) The third video is "Wag the Dog" (1997). As is occasionally the case, it provides understanding not as a documentary, but as an entertainment feature film -- at least the first 13 minutes of it. Because it grossed $64,000,000 you may well have seen it twenty years ago. If you didn't you should; if you did you need a refresher. (There doesn't appear to be a good quality copy available for free, but you can get it from Amazon (rent or buy) or Netflix (rent).)

The essential premise of the film for our purposes is that a president, caught up in a sex scandal with an important election looming, turns to a political consultant who proposes the creation of a media story sufficiently powerful to drive reporters away from the president's troubles. After considerable reflection, the consultant concludes the only media story big enough would be the creation of a war -- whether in fact or only in believable fantasy. You can get a suggestion of this theme from the first 33-seconds of this original theatrical trailer:



4. Finally, there are the President's remarks last evening. "President Trump Announces Strikes Against Syria," Voice of America, April 13, 2018 (0:7:40). On Tuesday, April 3, without warning to DOD, veering off topic from a speech on trade, Trump called for an immediate removal of American troops from Syria. The next day, April 4, he was finally briefed by his military advisers and backed off. Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "Trump Drops Push for Immediate Withdrawal of Troops From Syria," New York Times, April 5, 2018, p. A12. On April 11 he tweeted, "Get ready Russia, because they [missiles] will be coming, nice and new and 'smart.'" Jonathan Chait, "Trump Uses Social Media to Announce Attack on Syria, Confess to Obstruction of Justice," New York Magazine, April 2018. And by last night (two days later, April 13) they were.

What is the President's mission in Syria; what is his strategy? No one thinks using chemical weapons on one's people is a cool thing to do. But missiles are not a strategy -- especially when following a president's expressed desire to pull out all troops immediately, followed the next day by a reversal of position, and accompanying an express rejection of regime change.

So, why are we there? He has to offer something. It was, he said, because it is "a vital national security interest of the United States," because "the United States . . . is doing what is necessary to protect the American people." What these assertions mean, and why they are true, was left to our imaginations. What can the American people do? He concluded, "Tonight I ask all Americans to say a prayer for our noble warriors."



We will probably never know how much of last evening's missile attack on Syria was about "storming Damascus" and how much about "Stormy Daniels." Clearly, it diverted attention from this weekend's and next week's promotion of James Comey's blockbuster book, A Higher Loyalty, and the revelations of what Michael Cohen and Donald Trump have been cooking up, soon to be revealed in the documents from Cohen's office, home, and hotel room.

# # #

Monday, March 05, 2018

Dorman Enlightens on Law Process

Note: The Todd Dorman column to which this Letter refers has been reproduced at the bottom of this post. This Letter to the Editor of The Gazette was published by the paper, but apparently never entered as a blog post here. A hard copy having been found, along with a Gazette digital version, the Letter is being posted now, March 5, 2018, five years later, "for the record."

"Dorman Enlightens on Law Process"
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, June 29, 2013, p. A5

Todd Dorman’s column is always a good read. But he outdid himself with his investigation and revelations in “Auditor law ‘mystery’ is not” (June 20).

His description of the Iowa legislative process reminds me of my late friend Molly Ivins’ regular commentary regarding what she called the “Texas Ledge” (“I never saw anything funnier than Texas politics”).

Dorman’s column ought to be required reading for students learning from our old filmstrips, “How a bill becomes law.”

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City

# # #

The Original Todd Dorman Column

"Solving the Legislative Mystery of the Auditing Auditors"
Todd Dorman
The Gazette, June 20, 2013

Some questions are tough to answer. Why are we here? What does it all mean?

How did a provision get tucked into a budget bill at the Statehouse?

The provision, in this case, allows county auditors to actually audit county accounts and transactions. It adds 27 words to the Iowa Code, and hands Linn County Auditor Joel Miller a prize that he could not win through a nasty three-year court battle with the Board of Supervisors. The auditor may begin auditing July 1.

Those words were added to a roughly 40-page budget bill funding state government administration and regulation. It went through a joint House-Senate subcommittee, two appropriations committees, passed both chambers, went to a conference committee, passed both chambers again, and then on to the governor, who signed it Monday.

And yet, this week, news of auditing auditors hit these parts like a bolt from the blue. Its conception unclear, perhaps immaculate.

“Honestly, I don’t know where that came from, and I wasn’t aware of that specific change until I read about it in the paper,” said Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, when I called him Wednesday morning. He sits on the subcommittee where the bill began. And he wasn't the only lawmaker I contacted who was unaware of the provision.

“No, I know we didn’t have a discussion in committee," said Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, who was the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. "I didn’t have anyone talk to me for or against it outside of the committee."

By Wednesday afternoon, Staed was piecing the mystery together. He went back through the records and found that the auditor provision was added to the bill during a March 14 subcommittee meeting. The stated intent at the time, he said, was to allow auditors to keep tabs on federal social services dollars and flood relief bucks. But the Linn County power struggle never came up.

No written amendment was filed. The idea was simply added to the bill on a voice vote, Staed said.

“It was kind of a magically appeared thing,” Staed said. “Makes you want to be more cautious next time.”

Staed’s explanation fits the paper trail. On March 12, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency issued an analysis of the administration and regulation budget bill with no mention of auditing auditors. When a new analysis arrived on March 14, the language was included. And it stayed in until it became law.

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Robins, who co-chairs the budget subcommittee and floor managed the bill in the Senate, also checked on the history and said in an email that a subcommittee staffer noted a discussion on flood relief auditing and a voice vote.

But who proposed it? House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said it was Rep. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, a subcommittee member and chair of the Local Government Committee. “That’s my understanding,” said Paulsen, who frowns on putting non-spending policy proposals into budget bills, but supported allowing auditors to audit.

Schultz called me while he took a short break from field work on his farm. “I guess I’m kind of excited that somebody noticed I did something,” Schultz said.

Schultz said he’s been concerned about issues surrounding county mental health funding and how it’s being spent. “Who is watching the money?” Schultz said. “I asked around and found out that county auditors can’t audit.”

Surprised, Schultz offered up his simple idea to change that. He said he had no knowledge of the Linn County dispute.

So one lawmaker noticed what he saw as a problem and offered a solution. But almost no one noticed his solution until it became law. Mystery solved.

These things happen in the Legislature. Among the hundreds of bills and amendments moving around the joint, surprises are always possible, make that probable. And as surprises go, this isn’t going to jolt the course of Iowa history.

But it is a significant change, one that probably deserved additional legislative discussion and public scrutiny. I think it’s a good change. Letting auditors audit puts another set of eyes on taxpayer bucks. Now we just need sharper eyes in the Legislature.
# # #

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Bars, Students Should be Thankful

Note: A Letter to the Editor of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 3, 2013, was inadvertently not reproduced in FromDC2Iowa at the time and so has been added now, March 5, 2017.

Bars, Students Should Be Thankful
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 3, 2013, p. A8

Bars are in the business of profiting from the sale of alcohol. Those under 21 are legally prohibited from buying, possessing, or consuming alcohol. The most logical and easily administered standard would be to keep those under 21 from entering bars, as is done elsewhere.

Instead, Iowa City enables bar owners to profit maximize, and those who cannot legally purchase alcohol to be in their bars 20 hours a day. They are excluded only from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. It's scarcely "21-only."

Our City Council's approach is exceedingly generous to bar owners and their student customers alike, something for which they should be grateful rather than protesting.

To keep the underage, 20-hours-a-day bar access, you vote "No." To repeal it you vote "Yes." So voters may be confused. They may not even vote. But few are undecided.

So why write more?

Because there are a couple of really bizarre bits of rhetoric the controversy has inspired that need examination.

One is that people who are legally precluded from purchasing what a business is selling are deprived of their "human rights" if they are kept out of such establishments for the four hours each day when they cause the most mischief.

There are all kinds of laws restricting those underage from, among other things, getting married, driving cars, buying guns, performing in porn videos, purchasing cigarettes -- and yes, alcohol. Never, before now, has any been considered a human-rights violation.

The other is that because the drinking age should be 18, rather than 21, therefore it's OK for underage students to violatre the law and drink alcohol. I follow that argument "all but the 'therefore.'"

Until they persuade the Legislature of their position, (1) keeping those under 21 out of bars is logical, (2) permitting them in bars until 10 p.m. is generous, and (3) leaving them there until 2 a.m. is just asking for trouble -- the trouble we got the last time we tried it.

See, "Underage Drinking As Human Right? I Don't Think So," and links.

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City

# # #

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

'Never Happen Again' Is Not Enough

Note: Available below are: (1) "'Never Again' Is Not Enough," The Gazette, February 28, 2018, immediately below, (2) "Why 'Never Again' Is Not Enough," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 7, 2018; and "Why 'Never Again' is Never Enough," The Daily Iowan, March 19, 2018, p. 4, (3) the original blog post from which these columns were drawn, beginning with some excerpts from Vanessa Miller's story.

'Never Happen Again' Is Not Enough
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, February 28, 2018, p. A6

When I read Vanessa Miller’s report that an audit revealed “unacceptable risks” in the University of Iowa’s emergency preparedness (Feb. 18), I was reminded of a story my mother liked to tell.

A woman returned home to find a penciled note left by her new cleaning woman. It read: “I’m sorry, but I can’t work in a home that keeps an alligator in the bathtub. I would have said something earlier, but I did not think the situation would arise.”

Our school superintendent advised new school board members, “I don’t like surprises.”

There are surprises in life. Situations arise one could never have anticipated. That’s true.

But most disasters and crises are predictable.

Every computer hard drive will crash someday. Mine did a couple of weeks ago. I make lots of stupid computer mistakes, but not this one, this time. I didn’t have to say, “This must never happen again.” I was able to say, “Thank goodness there’s a backup on an external hard drive.”

Railroad companies know that without “positive train control,” their trains can jump the tracks or crash into other trains, and people can die. City officials know that without winter housing for the homeless, some may die from the cold. University officials know the medical, mental and behavioral consequences of students’ excessive alcohol consumption.

And federal and state legislators (along with Iowa’s governor) know that, so long as they march in lockstep with the National Rifle Association, more schoolchildren will be shot.

For those paid big bucks to lead institutions — legislators, corporate CEOs, university presidents, school superintendents — responsibility for identifying and preventing potential disasters is part of their job description. We’re not talking about the equivalent of unpredictable alligators in bathtubs. We’re talking systemic failures, as the UI audit suggests.

Yes, we want to learn from mistakes, to do better next time. But that no longer can be the “get out of jail free” card for the legislators and executives who’ve failed to do their “Job One.” OK, yes, tell us what you’re going to do so we, and others, won’t be going through this again.

But our real question for you is why, after 300 school shootings, did you so miserably fail at your job of anticipating the danger, and preventing it from happening this time?

Nicholas Johnson is a former school board member in Iowa City and maintains FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com and www.nicholasjohnson.org. Comments: mailabox@nicholasjohnson.org

_______________

Why 'Never Again' Is Not Enough
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 7, 2018, p. A7

And the identical text as:

Why 'Never Again' is Never Enough
Nicholas Johnson
The Daily Iowan, March 19, 2018, p. 4

A recent audit revealed the University of Iowa's emergency preparedness has "unacceptable weaknesses" creating "unacceptable risks."

Following the next predictable campus crisis will it be enough for UI's administrators to say, "we must see that this never happens again"? Is that an adequate response to school shootings by federal and state legislators? I don't think so.

There are some truly unpredictable surprises.

My mother told the story of a woman who found a penciled note from her new cleaning woman. It read, "I'm sorry, but I can't work in a home with an alligator in the bathtub. I would have said something earlier, but I did not think the situation would arise."

But railroads know that without "positive train control" passenger and freight trains can jump the tracks, crash into other trains, spill oil, and kill people.

Iowa's NRA-backed legislators and governor know stubborn support of every NRA demand means more school children will be shot.

Preventing such disasters is part of the job description of those getting the big bucks to lead corporations and government. Predictable shootings aren't unexpected alligators in bathtubs.

Leaders’ performance should be judged by, not what they propose to prevent "next time," but by what they failed to do to prevent “this time.”

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City
And:
Nicholas Johnson
Former Iowa City School Board member

_______________

Why 'Must Never Happen Again' Is Not Enough [original blogpost]

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa’s emergency preparedness — including its ability to handle bomb threats, health crises and hostage situations — has “unacceptable weaknesses” that expose the campus to “unacceptable risks,” a new audit reports.

The report . . . found problems with the UI’s emergency policies and plans, its training protocols, its communication strategies and its incident follow-ups. . . .

The audit comes as the nation grapples with another campus shooting — this time at a Florida high school, where a former student shot and killed 17 people.

Vanessa Miller, "Audit Finds 'Unacceptable Weaknesses' in University of Iowa Emergency Plans," The Gazette, February 18, 2018, p. A1.

My mother enjoyed telling the story of a woman who returned home to find a penciled note left by her new cleaning woman: "I'm sorry, but I can't work in a home that keeps an alligator in the bathtub. I would have said something earlier, but I did not think the situation would arise." [Photo credit: Wasilla, Alaska, Police Department.]

Our school superintendent advised new school board members, "I don't like surprises."

There are surprises in life. Situations arise that one could never have anticipated. That's true.

But most disasters and crises are predictable.

Every computer hard drive will crash someday. Mine did a couple weeks ago. I make lots of stupid computer mistakes, but not this one, this time. I didn't have to say, "This must never happen again." I was able to say, "Thank goodness there's a backup on an external hard drive."

Railroad companies know that without "positive train control" their trains can jump the tracks, or crash into other trains, and people can die. City officials know that without winter housing for the homeless, some can die from the cold. University officials know the medical, mental, and behavioral consequences of students' excessive alcohol consumption.

Federal and state legislators know that, so long as they march in lockstep with the NRA, more school children will be shot.

For those paid big bucks to lead institutions -- legislators, corporate CEOs, university presidents, school superintendents -- responsibility for identifying and preventing potential disasters is part of their job description. We're not talking about the equivalent of unpredictable alligators in bathtubs. We're talking systemic failures, as the UI audit suggests.

Yes, we want to learn from mistakes, to do better next time. But that can no longer be the "get out of jail free" card for the legislators and executives who've failed to do their "Job One." Yes, tell us what you're going to do so we, and others, won't be going through this again.

But our real question for you is, why, after 300 school shootings, did you so miserably fail at your job of anticipating the danger, and preventing it from happening this time?

# # #

Friday, February 16, 2018

UI Funding Worse Than Thought

President Bruce Harreld has shared some numbers regarding financial support the UI receives from Iowans and their elected representatives – with the conclusion that therefore "the university must increase its tuition." Bruce Harreld, "UI Must Press Forward Despite Disinvestment in Higher Education," The Daily Iowan, February 13, 2018. [Photo credit: Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan.]

Putting aside, as the old line has it, "I followed him all but the ‘therefore'" regarding tuition increases, the numbers cried out for more analysis. That analysis suggests the Iowa Legislature’s abandonment of higher education (while simultaneously bemoaning the shortage of skilled workers and exodus of young Iowans) is much worse than even President Harreld thinks it is. Our representatives have essentially transformed what Iowans once happily supported, and proudly called SUI -- The State University of Iowa -- into just another (at least 90%) private university.

He reports that, since 1998 (20 years ago), the total state budget has increased from $4.36 billion to $7.26 billion, while the UI’s appropriation declined from $223 million to $216 million. Meanwhile, enrollment increased from 27,871 to 33,564.

To make sense of those numbers, it is helpful to consider the impact of inflation, increase in the number of students, the appropriation per student, and the UI’s percentage share of the total state budget.

What cost you $1.00 in 1998 now sells for $1.50. You can’t meaningfully compare an appropriation of $223 million in 1998 with $216 million in 2018 – as bad as a $7 million reduction may look. You must consider inflation. A $223 million appropriation 20 years ago would be $334.9 million in 2018 dollars. The shortfall has not been $7 million, it has been nearly $120 million!

As a share of the state’s total budget the UI has dropped from 5.1% to 2.97%.

Comparing the appropriation per student for both years also requires an inflation adjustment. In 1998 the state appropriation was $8001.15 per student; this year it is $6435.47. Again, this is not merely a reduction of $1565.68; after inflation, it is a reduction from $12,016.12 -- $5580.66.

Sad.

For much more on this subject, and its consequences for the State of Iowa, see, Nicholas Johnson, "Iowa’s Economic Foundation? Graduate Education & Research," FromDC2Iowa, May 5, 2014.

# # #

Thursday, February 15, 2018

School Shootings: What You Can Do

We’re told those 17 Stoneman Douglas High School students killed on Valentine’s Day in Broward County, Florida, were the victims of the eighteenth school shooting during the first six weeks of 2018. [Photo credit: Stoneman Douglas High School Eagles logo.]

We feel helpless after each school shooting, and in many ways, we are. It is all but impossible to identify and stop a single individual, operating alone, free to select the time and place of carnage, from causing a good deal of it.

But there are things we can do.

(1) Start Early. There are many moral, ethical, and compassionate reasons for giving every child a fair start in life. But one of those reasons is that waiting to act until there are signs a child is a potential mass killer can be too late – as it was with Nikolas Cruz.

Make sure no child feels left out – or picked on. Encourage understanding and acceptance by teachers and students of those of different race, ethnicity, background, socio-economic class and abilities. Look for young children who are shy, seem to have no friends, have challenges and no support (or worse) at home, suffer from depression, are angry and discouraged, feel like they “don’t belong,” and have no adult they can turn to.

Don’t suspend, or expel, students for their behavior without first finding, and doing something about, the causes of that behavior. That’s not easy to do, especially in schools with large student populations (like Stoneman Douglas’ 3000) and inadequate resources. But even using students’ names while offering a kind word can go a long way and pay enormous future dividends.

(2) Ask questions. You have a right to know what your own school district is doing about (a) getting informed, and acting, regarding students showing signs of potential mass violence, (b) creating and informing teachers and students about what they should do in emergencies (including shootings), and running sufficient drills to make sure they can do it, and (c) maintaining building security at an optimum level – enough to be safe, while not unnecessarily increasing students’ anxieties.

(3) Commonsense gun controls. There are probably many reasons why the United States has far and away more gun deaths than other countries from mass shootings at schools. But clearly one of the major distinctions is the relative ease with which those who wish to create this carnage can acquire their weapon of choice: an AR-15 – as Nikolas Cruz did.

Find out what your federal and state senators and representatives have done, or refused to do, about the many proposed commonsense gun control measures opposed by the National Rifle Association.

Have they taken leadership on these issues, spoken out, written and introduced legislation? Signed on to legislation introduced by others? If they haven’t written or signed onto such legislation, have they at least voted for it?

Or, have they done the opposite? Have they advocated the NRA line, introduced its legislation, signed onto it, or at least voted for it – while opposing others’ commonsense suggestions?

Find out. And then work and vote for those who will help curtail, rather than perpetuate, this carnage of our children.

No one of us can make all these shootings stop. But here are three things you and I can do to reduce their number.

# # #

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Religious Rights and Civil Wrongs on Campus

NOTE: This blog post does not constitute "legal advice." It does not even rise to the level of a "legal opinion" derived from legal research. It is merely an informal, uninformed exploration of some questions the dispute suggests to the author. If you are personally involved in, or affected by, litigation related to the issues discussed, you should consult a lawyer. — Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, Jan. 20, 2018

UPDATE on Federal Court proceeding: Federal District Court Judge Stephanie Rose granted plaintiffs, Business Leaders in Christ, a temporary injunction on January 23, 2018. This will permit the BLC an opportunity today (January 24) to participate in the UI "recruitment fair" and sign up additional members. Note that this is not a final decision in this case. It only applies to the next 90 days. It does, however, require that the judge has rejected any prejudgment that there is no way the plaintiffs could possibly win on the merits (not that they will win). — N.J., Jan. 24, 2018

Additional Contents


Appendix

How the University of Iowa Became 'Congress'"

Newspaper Coverage and Related Matter

A member of a University of Iowa student organization that calls itself Business Leaders in Christ (BLC), asserts that, "put simply, the school is discriminating against our group because it doesn’t like our Christian beliefs." The University insists it’s simply enforcing the legal and regulatory human and civil rights of LGBTQ students. [Jacob Estell, "Why Did UI Single Out Christian Group?" Des Moines Register, December 14, 2017; and Ira Lacher, "Op-ed left out important facts," Des Moines Register, December 22, 2017.]

What that student "put simply" is now a federal district court case. Business Leaders in Christ v. University of Iowa, U.S. District Court, S.D. Iowa, Eastern Div'n, Civil Action No. 17-cv-00080-SMR-SBJ, Memorandum in Support of Application for Preliminary Injunction Oral Argument Requested (Expedited relief before January 24, 2018 requested), December 13, 2017; Declaration of Hannah Thompson; Declaration of Kimberlee W. Colby; kDeclaratiion of Jacob Estell; Declaration of Eric Baxter.

In this age of political divisiveness — "us" vs. "them" — few political movements, if any, can resist using various forms of an often successful litigation strategy. For some, the "them" are the "billionaires and corporations."

In this case, the "them" are what the plaintiffs' financial backers, and those of similar persuasion, have at times asserted are one or more of the following: elitist, liberal, politically correct, ivory-tower, anti-Christian college faculty and students.

So who are the "us," the financial and legal backers of BLC? It’s a group called the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — perhaps best known for its work on the Hobby Lobby case. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, 573 U.S. ___ (2014).

Here’s how The American Prospect describes the organization:
By choosing cases that will . . . slow the progression of same-sex marriage, critics contend, the fund has become ideological. The money seems to point in that direction. . . In 2012, the Becket Fund received almost a quarter of a million dollars from DonorsTrust, a shadowy middleman used to funnel money from benefactors like Charles and David Koch to conservative think tanks and advocacy groups. (The Becket Fund declined repeated requests for comment about its work and funding.)
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, "The Spirit and the Law; How the Becket Fund became the leading advocate for corporations’ religious rights," The American Prospect, June 18, 2014.

Thus, at the outset we need to recognize that this is not what one might normally think of as a "lawsuit." This is not two corporations suing each other because they can't resolve their differences; a consumer suing one of them; or a suit for damages suffered from personal injury in an automobile accident.

This lawsuit at least raises the possibility that it is but a single case in a nationwide political and ideological effort to make the case that (a) Christianity is under siege, and that (b) higher education is engaged in brainwashing young minds with socialism, liberal ideology, and agnostic to atheist religious views — including acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Indeed, it is even possible that Becket may have been involved in some way with the creation of the BLC, shortly before this conflict arose, in anticipation of a federal court case. I have no way of knowing if that occurred or not. Plaintiffs allege the organization has eight-to-ten members. I've not seen their names, and even if 10 that's 3/100ths of 1% of the student body. Moreover, BLC's filings in the case include a document making reference to a prior controversy at the University of Iowa nearly identical to this one. Declaration of Kimberlee W. Colby.

An effort to "follow the money" in this case is a story all its own. But with some exceptions, who is behind a law suit and why is of little relevance to the legal rights of the parties. Even serial killers are entitled to their constitutional rights. And Becket and BLC members are as well, almost regardless of motives.

Student organizations can increase their membership at the University of Iowa’s "recruitment fairs." The next one is scheduled for January 24-25, 2018. Because the controversy has resulted in the decertification of BLC as a student organization, it will not be able to participate. Therefore, Becket is asking the court for a "preliminary injunction" — by which one assumes it means the reinstatement of plaintiff as a student organization prior to January 24.

The primary requirement for preliminary injunction relief is a demonstration of the probability the plaintiff will ultimately win a permanent injunction.

Becket argues that BLC will ultimately win reinstatement, because plaintiff’s constitutional rights have been violated by the University.

Becket sites the First Amendment; but because it only limits "Congress" ("Congress shall make no law . . .") does it even apply to the University of Iowa? Yes; for the reasons why the University would be included in what the Founders called "Congress," see the Appendix, below.

What might be of relevance in the First Amendment? There are primarily three clauses (plus another three discussed below): The University "shall make no law ["law" includes "regulations"] respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech. . .."

Although the BLC's student spokesperson believes the University "doesn’t like our Christian beliefs," it’s important to distinguish between (a) beliefs that are held by students but not expressed, (b) the expression of students' beliefs in speech or writing, and (c) actions driven by those beliefs.

The University could not even know, and certainly does not restrict, students’ unarticulated beliefs or other thoughts — whether regarding religion or other subjects.

The University neither restricts students’ expression of their beliefs, nor could it legally do so — subject to some exceptions, such as disruption of the University's educational mission, or the provocation of "imminent lawless action."

This case involves BLC's actions — namely, its refusal to permit one of its members, who is openly gay, from running for a leadership position in the organization. It contends that student organizations, and student religious organizations most of all, must be permitted to retain what it believes is their constitutional right to insist that its leaders share the mission of the organization and the beliefs of its members.
Consider this hypothetical. From 1844 to 1978 the Mormon Church withheld from African Americans the opportunity to enter its priesthood — with theological arguments to support its position. Max Perry Mueller, "Is Mormonism Still Racist?" Slate, March 2, 2012. Assume that, prior to 1978, the University of Iowa had the same human and civil rights policies it has today. If the BLC's rationale were to be applied to that set of facts, could a UI Mormon Students Association successfully insist that it had a constitutional right to bar African American Mormon members from its leadership, while still enjoying the benefits of a UI-certified student organization? If not, why not; what is the distinction?
Note that University has not forbidden the existence of BLC in Iowa City, has not indicated a desire to do so, and probably could not do so. That is not at issue in this case.

This case merely involves whether a student organization at the University of Iowa, insisting on its asserted constitutional right to violate the University's written policies regarding students' human and civil rights (made expressly applicable to student organizations), is nonetheless constitutionally entitled to receive the benefits accorded University-certified student organizations. These benefits include such things as access to meeting rooms, participation in recruitment fairs, and financial support. Registration of Student Organizations ("It is the responsibility of each registered student organization to adhere to the mission of this University, its supporting strategic plan, policies, and procedures.")

All of which brings us to the distinctions between a "public forum" and a "limited public forum."

If the University, or other state institution, makes an auditorium or meeting rooms available to all organizations and members of the public, it has created a "public forum." As such, the institution cannot exclude any individual applicant or group from access to the public forum because of their religious beliefs, ideology or the content of their speech.

But that is not a public institution's only option. It can also create a "limited public forum" — that is, an auditorium or meeting rooms that are only available for designated groups or purposes. For example, use could be limited to "official university functions," or "college or department-sponsored events." That is, in effect, what the University of Iowa has done with regard to students' access to facilities, "recruitment fairs," and financial support. This privileged access is limited to student groups that have been certified as compliant with, among other things, the University's policies regarding individuals human and civil rights.

There is the possibility of some ambiguity in the BLC’s approach to students who identify as LGBTQ.

The BLC seems to accept the University’s Human Rights Policy requirement that BLC welcome all otherwise qualified students to membership regardless of the applicants’ sexual orientation. BLC Website, Membership Process ("The organization accepts anyone at any time throughout the year and will not discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or any other factor. However, because it is geared towards business students, the target audience for this organization would be for students already admitted into the Tippie College of Business, pre-business students, or students considering business as a major/minor.")
The University is guided by the precepts that in no aspect of its programs shall there be differences in the treatment of persons because of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, disability, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, service in the U.S. military, sexual orientation gender identity, associational preferences, or any other classification that deprives the person of consideration as an individual, and that equal opportunity and access to facilities shall be available to all. (emphasis added)
Operations Manual, Ch. 3, Human Rights, Sec. 3.1; and Policies, I. Student Rights, F. University Policy on Human Rights.

The University's enforcement of these requirements is complaint-driven — thereby avoiding the intrusion, administrative difficulty, and excessive costs of investigations into the detailed operations of every student group on campus. Anyone can complain of violations, and if they do the University will inquire into the facts. My guess is that the issue plaintiffs are asserting (the University's prejudice against "Christian beliefs") has either never, or very seldom, arisen before. Thus, it is not surprising that when plaintiffs did undertake an investigation they were able to find what they allege to be the inconsistent enforcement of the human rights standards they are charged with violating. (Obvious examples would be sports teams, or Greek organizations, that limit membership to a single sex. They also found a Muslim organization with standards similar to those of BLC with regard to beliefs of the organization's leaders.) However understandable, this inconsistency in enforcement may be a problem with the University's defense. It may, at a minimum lead to a reexamination, and restatement, of the application of the University's policies regarding human and civil rights.
"U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose pressed UI attorney George Carroll, specifically, on whether UI has addressed allegations it unequally enforced its human rights policy by deregistering Business Leaders in Christ for barring an openly-gay student. The student organization — which goes by BLinC — has argued other UI groups limit membership and leadership to those who agree with their ideals and religious beliefs, including Imam Mahdi, which reserves leadership posts for Shia Muslims and requires they 'refrain from major sins.' 'Has the University of Iowa taken any steps to ensure that organization has modified its constitution?' Rose asked about the Muslim group. Carroll answered, 'No.'" Vanessa Miller, "Federal judge presses University of Iowa on singling out religious student organization," The Gazette, January 19, 2018, p. A1.
It is true that BLC insists there should be a distinction between a certified student organization’s inability to reject members and what should be its freedom to apply stricter standards with regard to its selection of officers of the organization. (Becket argues an analogy to the "ministerial exception," that “a religious group’s 'selection of its ministers is unfettered.'" Brief, above, pp. 21 et seq.)

But even with regard to officers, there is an additional ambiguity in BLC’s position.

On the one hand, there is the suggestion that the organization’s Christian values are at odds with any male student self-identifying as gay –- which, while not precluding that student’s membership, would preclude their sharing leadership as an officer of the organization. (Depending on one's approach to the member-officer distinction, this would constitute a clear violation of the University's Human Rights Policy.)

On the other hand, there seems to be, as well, the profession of BLC’s Christian value that sexual relations outside of a marriage relationship are sinful. It is suggested that while individual occurrences of such a sin would not be disqualifying for BLC leadership (once appropriately atoned for), an open rejection of that value as a restraint on one’s behavior would be disqualifying –- possibly for membership, but certainly for leadership.

The complainant — an openly gay member who wished to be considered for leadership — was told he could not be an officer. It is possible that the BLC decision was grounded, not in the complainant’s sexual orientation status (his outing himself as gay), but rather on his insistence that he intended to continue to pursue sexual relations outside of marriage.

If so, and BLC applies the same standards to straights and gays alike (because sexual promiscuity is not one of the University’s protected human rights), the BLC’s decision would not seem to be a violation of the University’s prohibition of exclusion based on sexual preference.

As promised, not only is this blog post not legal advice, neither does it offer any answers, predictions of the judge's ruling, or proposals for revisions in the University's policies.

Moreover, there are many other issues involved in this case, and the others around the country involving student Christian organizations. It will continue to be interesting to follow how this case evolves over time.

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APPENDIX

"Establishment," "Free Exercise," and Why the University is "Congress"

The University of Iowa has denied "Business Leaders in Christ" its status as a student organization because of what the University believes to be BLC's alleged anti-gay policies. WWJD (what would Jesus do)? Apparently, Jesus would sue the University in federal court, because that's what BLC is doing. Neither facts nor law are clear.

Constitution. Let’s start with the Constitution.

Mention "the First Amendment" and most folks (including myself) think "freedom of speech."

Of course, 'free speech" and "press" (media) are not only mentioned there, they are among the fundamental pillars of democracy. [See, "Defending Democracy," December 3, 2017.]

But so are other foundations of our democracy: the right "peaceably to assemble" and to "petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Religious Freedom. In fact, the First Amendment begins, not with freedom of speech, but with freedom of religion:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Is the UI "Congress"? How can the First Amendment, with its restraints on the Congress ("Congress shall make no law . . .") even apply to the University of Iowa?

Simple. The Supreme Court is said to have created this "interpretation" of the word "Congress," by adhering to Humpty Dumpty's assertion that, "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean" [Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, chapter 6, "Humpty Dumpty," (1871).]

Being lawyers, the justices’ logical analysis was not, in fact, that simple. Consider the case of Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925). Although the facts involve a fascinating bit of American history giving rise to New York’s punishment of Gitlow for his speech, we’ll jump to the Court’s reasoning. True, the words of the First Amendment don’t apply to New York. However, the words of the Fourteenth Amendment do: "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." This led the Court to reason — or leap, as you may see it — to assert:
freedom of speech and of the press which are protected by the First Amendment from abridgment by Congress are among the fundamental personal rights and "liberties" protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the States. [268 U.S. 652, 666]
There you have it. The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, which are not, by their words, applicable to the states, are simply "incorporated" into the "due process" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which clearly is applicable to the states. ["Incorporation of the Bill of Rights," Wikipedia.org]

And that is how the University of Iowa became "Congress," forbidden by the First Amendment to either "establish" a religion, or prevent a religion’s "free exercise."

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Some Newspaper Coverage and Related Matter

Naomi Hofferber, "UI expels Christian student club over leadership requirement," The Daily Iowan, December 12, 2017

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, 561 U.S. 661 (2010)

” One Iowa Responds to Becket Fund’s Lawsuit Against the University of Iowa,” December 13, 2017;

Vanessa Miller, "Christian Organization: UI Ban Was Religious Bias; University of Iowa Dropped Student Group Over Its Treatment of Gay Member," The Gazette, December 14, 2017, p. A1;

Andy Davis, "Religious Liberty Case: Ousted Christian Student Group Sues UI," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 14, 2017, p. A1;

Vanessa Miller, "Christian Organization: UI Ban Was Religious Bias; University of Iowa Dropped Student Group Over Its Treatment of Gay Member," The Gazette, December 14, 2017, p. A1

Andy Davis, "Religious Liberty Case: Ousted Christian Student Group Sues UI," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 14, 2017, p. A1 Michael Fitzgerald, "Christian Group Banned For Kicking Out Gay Student Sues University of Iowa," Towleroad, December 15, 2017;

Vanessa Miller, "Rejected Christian student group wants to recruit at University of Iowa; Motion for injunction says campus recruiting fairs 'crucial' to its existence," The Gazette, December 20, 2017, p. A1

Jacob Estell, "Why Did UI Single Out Christian Group?" Des Moines Register, December 14, 2017 (also, Iowa City Press-Citizen: Jacob Estell, "Why Did UI Single Out Christian Group?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 20, 2017, p. A7)

Zachery Schmidt, "University of Iowa Derecognizes Christian Club Because of 'Sexual Moral Conduct' Rules for Leaders: Suit," The College Fix ("Your Right-Minded News and Commentry"), December 20, 2017

David Pitt, "Iowa lawsuit pits gay rights against religious freedom," Associated Press, January 15, 2018

Leigh Jones, "University of Iowa Forces Christian Group Off Campus," World Magazine, January 17, 2018 (with discussion of cases at UC Hastings Law School (5-4 U.S. Supreme Court, favoring school) and Vanderbilt University)

Vanessa Miller, "Federal judge presses University of Iowa on singling out religious student organization," The Gazette, January 19, 2018, p. A1

Vanessa Miller, "Judge Tells UI to Let Faith Group on Campus For Now; Business Leaders in Christ Was Banned For Bias Against Gay Student," The Gazette, January 24, 2018, p. A1 ("U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose sided with Business Leaders in Christ in granting a temporary injunction, which — for now — reinstates the group’s status as a student organization and allows it to recruit at a fair in the Iowa Memorial Union. 'BLinC’s motion is granted based solely upon the university’s selective enforcement of an otherwise reasonable and viewpoint neutral nondiscrimination policy,' Rose’s order states.")

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Additional labels: religion, civil rights, human rights, LGBTQ, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Business Leaders in Christ, student organizations, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Hobby Lobby, Donors Trust, Charles Koch, David Koch, Christianity, Constitution, First Amendment, free exercise of religion, establishment of religion, public forum, limited public forum, Vanessa Miller

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